In this podcast (episode #472) and blog, I talk about relationships, communication, sex, and the mind. This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
High-quality intimate relationships are good for our health—we all know this! But did you know that sexual intimacy is also good for us? I recently interviewed Dr. Elissa Epel about her work with telomeres and stress, and she mentioned that one of her most interesting and popular studies, published in 2017, was on a correlation she and her team found between longevity and safe and consensual sex. In this study, Dr. Epel and her team observed that couples that are more sexually intimate have longer telomeres, which contribute to our cellular health and longevity.
Other researchers have also found that the frequency of sexual intimacy for individuals in healthy relationships is linked to greater mental and physical health outcomes, such as more general happiness and greater life satisfaction (Muise et al., 2016), greater heart variability (Costa and Brody, 2012), lower daily somatic symptoms (Stadler et al., 2012), reduced daily diurnal cortisol (Ditzen et al., 2008), and a more robust immune response! Researchers have even found that the frequency of safe sexual intimacy for individuals in relationships has been linked to greater mental and physical health outcomes, such as more general happiness and greater life satisfaction (Muise et al., 2016)!
But this is not just about sex. As Dr. Epel discusses in her work, our telomeres are correlated with how supported we feel in a relationship. Healthier romantic relationships tend to predict a positive stress response and better longevity. The stronger your relationship is, the better your sexual intimacy will be, which, in turn, can help improve not only your mental health but also your longevity!
Of course, this is a lot easier on paper than it is in real life. In a romantic relationship, you literally imprint that person onto your brain. This means that you are connected in ways that are both emotional and physical. You really do affect each other, which can be both a good and bad thing.
These kinds of relationships can be incredibly challenging at times—I don’t think you need me to tell you that! Below are some tips to help you build a healthier relationship through communication and improve your sexual intimacy and overall health:
1. .Establish an open line of communication:
It is important to establish an open line of communication with your partner on a regular basis by encouraging them to share what is on their mind AND sharing how you feel. Work on creating an environment where you both feel like you can talk about everything that is happening in your lives, from the small to the big things. This will help you both feel more supported in the relationship.
2. Think before you speak:
Make sure you have thought about what you want to say and work on staying calm when confronting your partner or discussing an issue. If you raise your voice or become aggressive, it can quickly spiral into a fight.
It takes about 60-90 seconds for emotions to pass through you, so if you feel upset, it’s critical you not do anything besides just breathe and gather awareness during this period. This is the time when most people react and then regret what they said or did. Waiting for about a minute or so before speaking gives your brain and nonconscious mind the time to dynamically self-regulate by adjusting to and organizing the incoming information.
3. Ask before you speak:
Ask your partner if you can talk to them about what is bothering you, rather than just demanding that they listen to what you have to say.
4. Don’t run away from the uncomfortable:
Whatever you say might be hard for your partner to hear or process in the moment, and they might react in anger or sadness. Just keep reminding yourself that they are experiencing their own emotions and may be surprised by what you are saying. Don’t try to suppress or avoid uncomfortable situations.
You can tell your partner that you value what you have with them, but be assertive about your desire for something more and your need to communicate what you don’t feel happy about.
5. Learn to just “be” with each other:
Yes, great sex and exciting date nights are amazing. But times of quiet, where you can just “be” with your partner, are equally important when it comes to feeling supported and loved. Just sitting quietly with your loved one, for example, has a beauty in and of itself. I call this the “live your best life” mentality: learning to notice beauty in the small things will make your time with your partner feel like a gift—something to be treasured and appreciated every day.
For more on relationships, sex and the mind, listen to my podcast (episode #472). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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0:37 The science behind relationships & the mind
5:48 Sex, relationships & longevity
9:10 How improving our relationships can improve our health
10:33 Why communication is so important in a relationship
11:22, 18:28 Ways to improve your communication so you feel supported in a relationship
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.